Palace Atetelco – San Juan Teotihuacan de Arista, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

Palace Atetelco

This pre-Hispanic apartment complex also includes ancestral paintings that point to its military past.  


Near the pyramids of Teotihuacán, lost between cornfields and houses, is the archaeological zone of Palace Atetelco. During the heyday of the ancient city, this area was an apartment complex of sorts for the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacán. It’s believed that it operated between the year 450 and 650. Much of the artwork located around the site features military themes, which has led researchers to believe these were either living quarters for the military, an academy to train warriors, or some combination of both.

The structure is divided into courtyards. During excavations, obsidian knives, arrowheads, and numerous maguey thorns (used by warriors to self-flagellate to please their deities) were discovered. This further added to the theory that this was used by the military. 

Many of the murals discovered in the different hindquarters were found in pieces on the ground. After their discovery, work began to attempt to match the various pieces on the walls. With the help of a few original pieces, researchers began to uncover the contents of the huge blank spaces. Today, they reveal how the site could have looked during its heyday when it was draped in ancient splendor. 

Among the characters presented in the various images, there is the “bird man” who bears a shield, a beak-shaped helmet, and has wings. One of the columns displays a man with broken feet and crying. Then there’s an eagle with extended wings carrying 13 offspring. Paintings of shields, sacrificial knives, and hearts with crossed arrows can also be found around the site, along with jaguars and other animals relating to the night and underworld.

Know Before You Go

Access is included with the entrance ticket to the archaeological zone of Teotihuacan (but must be purchased at the pyramids). Prices are currently subject to change (February 2020). 

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February 24, 2020

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